Crystal Esparza advanced to the CIF State Cross Country Championships twice. But the Beyer High senior had never qualified for the state track meet.
"This is my first time for track," said Esparza, who punched her ticket when she placed third in the 1,600-meter run at last week's Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Finals at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento. "No question, it's much tougher to make it in track."
She's part of a group of nine Stanislaus District runners and throwers to advance to this weekend's CIF State Track and Field Championships at Cerritos College in Norwalk. Friday's trials begin with field events at 2 p.m., followed by running at 5. Saturday's field finals begin at 2 p.m., followed by running at 4.
The local athletes are a varied lot.
There's German Fernandez of Riverbank, the national leader in the 1,600 and 3,200, and Sierra senior Derek Sinclair, the Manteca school's first thrower to go to state. He'll compete in the shot put and discus.
Four local athletes — Modesto's Matt Maldonado, Merced's Sable Browning, Esparza and Fernandez — are going in the 1,600-meter run.
Fernandez, Beyer's Kendall Morris (girls discus) and Buhach Colony's Rachel Hammar (girls shot put and discus) are the only locals seeded among the top six. The top six placers in each event receive medals.
All nine athletes are seniors, and all nine took different roads to state.
While Fernandez had little trouble, Esparza had to battle. She held off two runners at Masters to take the third and final state berth.
"It was kind of strange," she said. "As soon as I crossed the line, I was so excited. Then a second later, I was like, 'Wow, I'm tired.' "
It was the culmination of four years of work on the track.
Esparza and Morris will continue to be teammates. They're going to Cal to continue their track careers.
Morris, like Esparza, is competing in her first state meet. She's seeded fifth in the discus.
"There will be some nerves when I actually am down there and throwing," Morris said after last Thursday's section win. "But those will pass. I just have to focus and throw, and I'll be all right."
Browning is also competing in her first state meet. Like several local competitors, she'll compete, then head back for graduation the following week.
"First, I'm going to run at state," she said. "And then I get to walk at graduation. This is a great time."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.